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#class talk tomorrow

Post #1468 • March 18, 2010, 11:28 AM • 161 Comments

Let it be known or reminded to you that tomorrow, 4 PM, at Winkleman Gallery, as part of the #class project by Jen Dalton and William Powhida, I'm delivering a talk entitled "Conceptulism for Sale: How the Art World Uses Low Standards for Fun and Profit."

Or will that be the title? Come by and find out. I'll post the talk here on on Monday.




March 18, 2010, 2:30 PM

Is this for real? Because if it is I'm stealing a car tonight and driving up there so I can watch some art world heads explode in the audience. Bring your nun-chuks Franklin, you might need them.



March 18, 2010, 2:46 PM

I've long aid the best art makes its way by persisting. A corollary may be the the worst art loses its way by hanging around too long.



March 18, 2010, 2:51 PM

This is totally for real.

John - you're on to something there.



March 18, 2010, 3:37 PM

Wwc - six $25 Megabus buses leave DC for NY tomorrow morning in time to make the talk. It would be great to see you!



March 18, 2010, 3:54 PM

I'd love to be there and cheer wildly but between the dayjob and the family I'm unfortunately stuck here.

I do eagerly await both reading your talk and hearing about its reception.



March 18, 2010, 9:24 PM

As I don't have to take a Megabus, I hope to attend your talk (don't know that I can hang around, though -- this is an awfully busy week for me.) I also hope you get a chance to squeeze in the Griefen show at Gary Snyder, 250 West 26th Street (only 4 1/2 blocks from Winkelman). I think it is a show Clement Greenberg would have liked.



March 18, 2010, 9:25 PM

Do you realize your blog is still on EST?



March 18, 2010, 9:28 PM

I'll make a point of it, Piri. Look forward to seeing you there. I'll get to work on the time change next week.


Edward Winkleman

March 18, 2010, 9:29 PM

Looking forward to hearing what you have to share Franklin...(wearing my anti-exploding-head helmet) :-)




March 18, 2010, 9:29 PM

Actually, I could use more NYC show recommendations. I have all day Saturday.


Chris Rywalt

March 18, 2010, 9:51 PM

You have all day Saturday? Why didn't you tell me? Could you possibly just come out and admit to me you don't want to hang out with me now? I'm a big boy. I can take it.

Piri, I tried to see the Griefen show last Friday but got to the gallery too late -- they'd closed. They close right on time, too, boy howdy. I think it was 6:11 when I got there.

In fact I missed every show I'd intended to see that day except Daniel Rozin at bitforms which I recommended to you a few threads back. (I was in the building anyway delivering Girl Scout cookies to Oly Lambert.) Dan's show was very small -- only three pieces -- but still really cool. Childlike wonder and just plain fun, in a laid back kind of way. Beautiful and neat-o.

Hopefully I'll get to Griefen soon.



March 18, 2010, 9:56 PM

Can I come out and admit to you that my travel planning skills extend to about four hours in advance? Touch base with me tomorrow - maybe we can do a gallery crawl.


Chris Rywalt

March 18, 2010, 10:19 PM

I'll see you at #class, anyway.



March 18, 2010, 10:19 PM

I don't want to oversell Griefen. Don't go expecting miracles, just a very nice show.

Went to the opening of the Dzubas show at Jacobson Howard tonight. Work from the 50s (long before Dzubas attained his mature style). Some of it awfully Frankenthalery but some very lively & beautiful & individual work, too.

Forgive me for mentioning my column, but if you've read my March issue you know how I felt about the group show at Leslie Feely & the ancient Vietnamese art at the Asia Society (short form: I recommend both).

On my list of shows to see: in Chelsea, Kyle Staver at Lohin Geduld (closes March 20); Hofmann, Krasner, Pollock at Ameringer McEnery Yohe; uptown, Milton Avery at Knoedler; 9 Old Masters on loan from the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London at the Frick; Modern Art, Sacred Space (Motherwell, Ferber, Gottlieb) at the Jewish Museum; Otto Dix at the Neue Galerie. From what I've seen of Dix in the past, he is the most cynical painter I've ever happened across, but that doesn't mean one necessarily wants to ignore him.


Chris Rywalt

March 18, 2010, 10:39 PM

The Neue Galerie is pretty cool anyhow. I'm not sure Dix is all that good -- his work looks very unpleasant -- but their permanent Klimt collection is lovely and I, personally, was deeply touched by the Austrian children's drawings bidding Adele good-bye. They were up in the basement when I was there. Also, they have Klimt's smock.

The admission is high for such a small museum, but compared to the other museums in the area, it's pretty cheap at $15. MoMA's $20 and the Frick -- well, let's just say you'll say "That's frickin' expensive!" Okay, it's only $18. Still a lot of money if you ask me.

I should go see Milton Avery. That sounds good.



March 18, 2010, 10:59 PM

Chris, I also have Dan Rozin on my list but can't get to see him this week -- life is just too rich & full.

Any critic who writes a lot about art should consider trying to join the US chapter of the International Association of Art Critics (AICA). Not sure what their current requirements for membership are but you could google their website & find out. You pay about $85 annual membership & this gets you a membership card which functions as a press pass & gets you in free to pretty much any art museum in this country, as often as you want to go. It's great abroad, too -- the headquarters is in Paris & they have chapters all over the world. I've never been anywhere much abroad beyond Europe but I have used the international AICA card in England, France, Germany & Spain. Never any problems except for the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris which is run by the Catholic Church, who are really cheap & made me pay just like anybody else.



March 19, 2010, 6:03 AM

Well, I see that the NYTimes has written up the doings at Winkleman today. That should ensure a capacity crowd -- hope I can fight my way in! There's also a story on Asia Week, and galleries open with Asian art.


Chris Rywalt

March 19, 2010, 9:03 AM

Crap. Now I'll have to get there early. I didn't want to get there early.


Chris Rywalt

March 19, 2010, 9:08 AM

Who said "Looking at bad art is hard work"?



March 19, 2010, 11:17 AM

This was in a private letter. I didn't quote the author by name because I hadn't gotten her permission to quote her in public. But she isn't famous -- I doubt her name would mean anything to you even if I had her permission to mention it.


Chris Rywalt

March 19, 2010, 11:20 AM

It sounds like something Darby would say. I wanted to put it in my quotes file with an attribution. I guess I can come up with something. "As told by" or something.


Chris Rywalt

March 19, 2010, 11:23 AM

By the way, AICA's Website says:

The organization is open to critics who have been writing in the field of contemporary art at a high level and on a continuous basis for at least three years. (Contemporary art is defined as art created since 1900). Criticism may take the form of publications in reputable art magazines or journals, art critiques in daily papers or periodicals, reports on art for radio, or TV programs, books on contemporary art or art criticism and critical essays published in museum catalogues.

Since I have exactly one professional art writing credit, and that was for a gallery show, not a museum, I am not in the running for a membership.



March 19, 2010, 1:16 PM

Too bad. Well, it gives you something to shoot for. In the meantime, the Asia Society is open until 9 on Fridays, and after 6 pm, it's free.



March 19, 2010, 5:28 PM

Franklin I am tuning late to this unfortunately. I hope you gave (are giving?) them something tough & brilliant like that talk out in Portland

Go see the Dzubas show at Jacobson/Howard. I suspect it is easily the best show in town. Say hello to Lynda & Loretta for me.


Chris Rywalt

March 19, 2010, 7:43 PM

Anyone who missed it, you're glad you didn't go. Franklin's part was fine but you can read that here when he posts it. The discussion following was about as interesting as watching your cat eat tinsel off the Christmas tree.

The high point, for me, was when Ed, apropos of nothing, while Franklin was talking, got up and wrote on the blackboard over Franklin's head, "BEAUTY = PATRIARCHY" and under that "COMPELLING = ". I can't remember what symbol he put there but I thought it was something like "NOT".

There's a low-resolution video. At the 1:13 mark you can watch me walk in, and then you can stare at my bald spot. Near the very end I speak up and overload the microphone and now I understand why people always think I'm being obnoxious because I sure sound obnoxious.



March 19, 2010, 9:08 PM

Well, I enjoyed it. As you say, the only person talking real sense was Franklin, but a number of participants in this blog were present, and it was fun to be able to set faces to the names. PS Franklin, thanks for the plug -- that was nice, too.


Chris Rywalt

March 19, 2010, 9:52 PM

Maybe I'm being too harsh. Not everyone there was a total numbskull. Joanne Mattera was there and I like seeing her. She talks sense and, better yet, isn't obnoxious like I am. And I got to meet Piri, which was great, and also George, which was fine. William Powhida and Jen Dalton shook my hand, which is probably more than they should have, given the things I've written about them.

Also, there was free Budweiser.



March 19, 2010, 10:05 PM

Beauty equal patriarchy? These people are pathetic.

You can't fight stupid, you can only walk away from it.



March 19, 2010, 10:21 PM

You can't walk away from free Bud. But you can fight it.



March 19, 2010, 10:26 PM

You walk away from stupid and drink a quantity of free Bud To rinse stupid out of your system.



March 19, 2010, 11:08 PM

The premise: you can't fix stupid. The proof: anti-exploding helmets don't work.



March 19, 2010, 11:26 PM

Budweiser? Try Hopslam. It might have gotten that conversation to go somewhere ... maybe not.



March 19, 2010, 11:27 PM

Chris, It seemed like the video you linked to was for the 2pm event and someone else? I couldn't find Franklin's talk.



March 19, 2010, 11:43 PM

Awesome, John. I'll look for that at our best beer stores, but chances are slim I'll find it here, I expect.

I'm drinking Hop Head right this minute.

Have been craving a New Hampshire microbrewed 90-minute IPA called Dogfish Head for the last couple of weeks. It complements English Pudding beautifully (or try it with a cinammon bun)! Sadyly, all of Edmonton is sold out, it seems.



March 19, 2010, 11:48 PM

Would like to further *research* an IPA I tried and liked not long ago called Yellow Snow.



March 19, 2010, 11:51 PM

The Hop Head meshes nicely with a little soft black licorice. I'm nibbling Panda.



March 20, 2010, 1:37 AM

I just finished watching the whole damn thing. Turned out that Franklin himself was the Hopslam the conversation needed. He got them well engaged with his 12 minute talk and more or less from then after until the time it got cut off. Some had taken off during the intermission before he talked, which left what seemed like the "hard core" - that may have made his task easier. I did hear the remark about beauty and patriarchy but did not see it written on the board (very fuzzy video), nor did I find the group pathetic.

With the first speaker they seemed more like they just ran off their own tapes whenver the opportunity presented itself. Whereas they really did attempt to deal with what Franklin said. It was worth watching the whole thing, almost in a Warholian sense, to get a sense of how things changed for the better when Franklin took over. Chris and Piri skipped the whole first hour and then some, so maybe they should look at what came first to get a better sense of what took place. I'm mildly optimistic. It was more than mere politness that they extended. Franklin's points about the role discussability has played in the determination of what sits at the top of the feeding chain had an effect that almost seemed palpable, given the muddiness of the image and the tendency for the sound recorder to run out of headroom at all the wrong places.

But it was awfully long.

I liked that Chris and Piri sat right under the surveillance camera. Got a nice take on their introduction to each other. And Chris, forget how you sound to yourself. No one knows how they sound so when you hear an actual recording it is freakish.

Nice job Franklin.



March 20, 2010, 6:10 AM

Your report is encouraging, John. I think once people get in a group some semblance of real authority can take over. I have noticed this myself many times.

Unfortunately they will revert to their sheepish ways once they get back to their home group.

Perhaps the best thing to come out of it will be Franklin's convincing exposure to a bunch of NY art people. I hope it leads to something for him, and, (perhaps vainly to be hoped), some introduction of a seed of common sense intelligence into the NY art world.

That ale sounds wonderful, John. I am a fan of beers and always drank a local brand when traveling. Unfortunately most of them turned to soda water years ago, but then we got the microbreweries in reaction, which produce a fine variety. I used to dote on Ballantine Pale Ale as a kid, available everywhere, but it went downhill and then went away.

I don't drink any more, alas, but packed enough away earlier to suffice for several lifetimes.

Ahab, 90-minute Dogfish Head is my wife's favorite. It ain't cheap, but it is good. (I take a sip once in a while; I don't call it drinking). Your account of food/beer sounds truly connoisseurish, if a bit odd.


Chris Rywalt

March 20, 2010, 6:35 AM

Generally I don't drink, but on those rare occasions when I do, I certainly don't drink Budweiser. I prefer lambics, especially gueuze. Bud from a can? I don't think so.

John, I can't believe you watched the whole thing. I'm going to write it up (since Franklin pretty much asked me to) but the short version is I thought it was like every town council meeting, recreational soccer meeting, Boy Scout camping trip planning meeting, and PTA meeting I've ever been to. Lots of talking while the real work goes on elsewhere, done by committed (both in the sense of dedicated and also insane) individuals.

I didn't get the sense that anyone in the room was really engaging with Franklin and his ideas.

As far as I how I sound to myself, it's not so much the sound of my voice that's weird -- obviously everyone sounds strange to themselves when they hear a recording -- it's the tone. Admittedly I wasn't trying to be nice or anything but I really sounded nasty, like I thought the other person was a total idiot. That's what I was thinking but I didn't intend for that to come out.



March 20, 2010, 7:51 AM

So the video starts at 2pm and runs for a few hours? Roughly what time does Franklin speak? He was scheduled for 4.



March 20, 2010, 8:03 AM

Sorry, I got it now. Chris walked in at 1 HOUR,13 minutes. I may just run it and come back then. I'd like to watch the interaction and the people.


Chris Rywalt

March 20, 2010, 8:11 AM

Yeah, I realize I should have said 1:13:04. Sorry about that.



March 20, 2010, 10:35 AM

As I recall, Ben Davis had the 2-4 slot, then Franklin 4-6, but it ran on.

I came in with Max and the beer, it wasn't Bud, it was Free Bud. I missed the first part but from what I heard it wasn't all that biased a crowd, with several purely visual painters in the group. All in all it was fun, I met Chris and Piri along with a few others I only knew online. Afterwards Franklin, Agni Zotis and I went to a couple of openings together.

PS: Franklin, I forgot to mention Bill Jensen's show at Cheim & Read (547 W 25th)


Chris Rywalt

March 20, 2010, 11:08 AM

Hey, George, do you have a full name, and maybe a link, for my write-up? Or would you rather remain just George?


Chris Rywalt

March 20, 2010, 11:45 AM

Well, anyway, my version of the event is up.



March 20, 2010, 1:47 PM

Well, I read your account of the talk, Chris, & I found it interesting, Chris (your drawing of Franklin is also VERY nice). I guess I didn't expect as much as you did, so I wasn't as disappointed. I merely went to hear Franklin speak, and I found his talk worthwhile (though he needs more practice at reading from a prepared manuscript, so it doesn't sound quite so much like that's what he's doing). Meeting you & Joanne & seeing what George looked like were additional plusses that I hadn't anticipated. I was as irritated as you were when "beauty = patriarchal" went up on the blackboard. I'm not a patriarch & I still love beauty! Maybe I'm a matriarch, but that use of "patriarchal" had nothing to do with reality. It's just name-calling, part of the same tired pomonian way of trying to smear modernism as old-fashioned & politically incorrect.



March 20, 2010, 1:51 PM

Chris your account is excellent, trenchant and funny. I particularly like the low-key dismissiveness, the "geez...wot the hell is this?" attitude you take. It is exactly what such a thing deserves, no more. It is exactly what the New Yorker should be doing.



March 20, 2010, 2:06 PM

Chris, Yes I watched the whole thing. The first two hours reminded me of Haircut and Eat, for its capacity to blank me out. The static surveillance camera effect added to that. A few people came and left, others left and came back and some just walked through the room on their way to somewhere else - all of which became "big events", like when Robert Indiana took a bite out of the mushroom.

I made a partial list of some of the subjects the first speaker - Ben Davis - brought up and responded to: Marx and Marxism, art dealers, civil rights, power, art workers, information age, charter schools, anti-liberalism, church and state, Obama, and the Texas school text thing. Other subjects didn't make my list because I became lazy while trying to keep tabs. The talk was unfocused and Davis was not very muscular in his delivery - he kept rocking himself back and forth sideways, a kind of self-stemming that addresses discomfort. His hand gestures seemed to wipe out or discount the very things he was saying as he said them. Maybe he wasn't prepared, maybe he just doesn't like to address groups. I don't know. But with a string of all the usual subjects lined up in front of them and little leadership from the leader, the seminar participants trotted out their own take on them, rather than challenged Davis to offer more. It was sort of a pluralistic love-in, sans any pairing off. I could be harsh and say "academic circle jerk" but I won't. Rather, they needed some leadership and they were not getting much.

Franklin, on the other hand, was well prepared, with stuff written down. As you know, he had devised a simple clear approach: conceptualism was "awesome" and anyone against it was a "hater" and could be destroyed with the handy arguments Franklin provided. And he had prepared himself further by reading it aloud and timing it - 12 minutes he said, read slowly. I don't know why he apologized for having something written because it was well written and exactly on target for that audience. After 2 hours of rambling I was surprised at how they changed modes and paid attention, even after all that beer. They asked questions about what he had said, questions that challenged, but in an open way that did not close themselves to the possibility Franklin could add something to their experience. They were not running out words on the topic of the day. Franklin did not rock back and forth, and his hand gestures underscored what he said or reached out to those listening. He was not overbearing in any way, but rather friendly and inviting without giving up his leadership position. The participants seemed refreshed, as if they had not heard much of the type of things Franklin was leading them towards. I realize horses can be led to water but not made to drink, and that may well be the final outcome. But Franklin made the path clear.

George R was there and early on said something to the effect that seriously confronted Franklin's (and others like him) motivation - something like the art system had rejected their values 40 years ago so everyone got mad, but that is a vague recollection. What impressed me was the difference eye contact, and full visibility of each others posture, and speaking tone, etc. made in the way the two interacted, even though their was no compromise on either side. Franklin did not lecture him on the futility of motivating others - something I might have done - for that would have eroded his rapport with both George and the audience. Instead, Franklin "introduced" George as the one he argued on line with at Winkleman's blog, something that would be of obvious interest to "hashtagclass". I kept thinking, dots on the screen have become a necessity, but they are not reality. Franklin does even better in reality than he does with the dots. George came across similarly.

I wished Chris and Piri had said more. I also wished the camera had not shut down before the end. After waiting two hours to get to the real deal, I rather resented getting cut off.



March 20, 2010, 2:06 PM

Your drawing of Franklin is good as a drawing but avoids providing any trace of his natural amiability. He looks like the evil doctor in a Bond movie.



March 20, 2010, 2:14 PM

I suspect he wasn't feeling especially amiable on that occasion. In his place, I certainly wouldn't have either.



March 20, 2010, 2:19 PM

John between your account & Chris's the the thing can be virtually experienced. Your acute observation of the style and manner of the behavior there is terrific - the aimless rambling through the PC talking points - the no eye contact - the gestures that contradict the words. The art world in miniature. It should be on Broadway.


Chris Rywalt

March 20, 2010, 2:39 PM

Your analysis is indeed impressive, John. You might be interested in EAG's dissection of Ben Davis' Marxism. I think it's interesting you looked so much at the body language -- while I was there I paid little attention, and looking at the video I only marvel at my own body language. Man, I look like a larger Roger Ebert. I mean, I love Roger and all, but....

Franklin certainly was prepared and comfortable in a way others were not. George was pretty okay, too, although he has that old weird artist thing going -- funny little hat, mumbly speech, leaning forward in his chair. He's a character, all right. I think it would've been a lot more interesting to go out just me, Franklin, Piri, and George. Maybe throw Joanne in there, too. Joanne didn't talk much either, and you should be disappointed about that, because she's like the stern, hard-nosed but ultimately accepting Italian mom. She'll tell you to wash your face and hands and then give you a big bowl of macaroni, but smack you with a wooden spoon when you put your elbows on the table.

One thing I didn't put together until you mentioned it was Franklin's control of the room. He had it most of the time but there were those two women halfway down the table who didn't accept it and I think clearly resented it. And, not surprisingly, I think those were the two most dogmatic people in the room.

As far as my drawing -- well, I'm no portrait artist. Also, honestly, I sense no natural amiability in Franklin. I think he really is a Bond villain and only pretends to put up with the rest of us. As soon as he's got a down payment on his own hollow volcano, we're in trouble.

Thank you, Piri, John, and OP, for your kind words about my writing.



March 20, 2010, 3:59 PM

Just the face that someone feels the need to "dissect someone's Marxism" says more about this sorry confab than anything else.

Really! Marxism?? These are people who say Abstraction is dated??



March 20, 2010, 4:00 PM

Just the FACT is what I meant. Sorry.



March 20, 2010, 4:35 PM

I like the way EAG announces himself as 100% negative and proud.



March 20, 2010, 5:45 PM

Sorry I didn't speak up more at Franklin's do but I'm not good at speaking exporaneously, and I have a terrible habit of being very negative when I do, which would only have added unnecessary heat to the proceedings. Besides, from where I was sitting I couldn't hear what was going on much of the time. Nor had I seen any work by any of the artists present (to the best of my knowledge) and I don't like to pass judgment on art I haven't seen.


Joanne Mattera

March 20, 2010, 6:37 PM

Opie says: "These people are pathetic."
What people exactly?



March 20, 2010, 6:41 PM

Ohh. Free *BUD*.

My harddrive is also smoking of late, making it so's I can't view the vid. I'm looking forward to reading the #class transcript (assuming I can still fire it up on Monday).

Using "#class" in a sentence makes me feel all worldly-wise.



March 20, 2010, 7:50 PM

In case anyone wonders, I've been away because I'm dealing with a family health problem. #57 was not directed at me, but since I could easily have made the same statement as Opie, and certainly sympathize, I'll respond to it anyway:

"What people exactly?"

Anyone who would pull that little "beauty = patriarchy" number, which is not only fatuous bullshit but also knowingly, smugly correct and self-serving bullshit. I personally don't need to know anything else about someone who would make such a statement; in the context of art, such a person has no credibility whatsoever as far as I'm concerned. Your mileage may vary, but that has nothing to do with my particular vehicle.



March 20, 2010, 9:13 PM

Had my first Hopslam. It is an expensive beverage ($17 per six-pack), but fully lives up to its advertisement. To "bitter" and "bruising" I would add "brutal". Just one felt like I had drunk a half bottle of wine, as would be expected by a 10% beer. Under its influence I wrote a letter to my congressman, expressing my views on ______. (I won't bring up politics unless opie does.) Got a response in less than one second. That Hopslam is potent stuff.



March 20, 2010, 10:32 PM

John, I'm sure your response was "Thank you for your correspondence. Your message is very important to us..."

Joanne, whoever demeaned Franklin by writing that silly message in the middle of his talk (I forget the name of the person) and by extension the whole addled art world, typified by the people Chris & John described so vividly. I am increasingly convinced that the art world at large in increasingly populated by people who can't do anything much outside of the permissive and non-accountable precincts of a business that allows anything and achieves little.


Chris Rywalt

March 20, 2010, 10:40 PM

I actually wrote this earlier over at Modern Kicks: "Unfortunately that's the pattern for the art world: Elevate an artist who imports a narrow outside field into the gallery, even though compared to anyone from that field, the artist is incompetent. Cf. Roy Lichtenstein and Matthew Barney. Basically, if you can't make it in an actual professional field, you can always drop back to fine art."

The writer of "BEAUTY = PATRIARCHAL" -- should would call him an author or composer? -- was Ed Winkleman, owner and dealer of the gallery in which #class was held. I wish I'd remembered how indignant Piri sounded when she saw what he'd written -- she snorted and said to me exactly what she wrote here: "I'm not a patriarch and I still love beauty!"

Of course what Piri doesn't realize is that she's been brainwashed by the patriarchy into thinking that beauty isn't patriarchal....



March 20, 2010, 11:22 PM

patriarch = old man, it says in the dictionary. When I was younger, I learned from men who were older than I was -- and from a lot of women who were older than I was, too, but at this stage of the game, almost all of the people I learn from -- female as well as male -- are younger than I am (more's the pity -- I could do with a few more patriarchs in my life!).



March 21, 2010, 10:38 AM

Were Winkleman's blackboard antics an intentional, or unintentional, homage to Glen Back, I wonder...

Chris, that portrait of Franklin makes me think you could be a courtroom sketch artist (maybe that's not too far off the mark for the Trial of Mr. Einspruch).

I'll take one BEAUTY ≠ PATRIARCHY t-shirt, please.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 11:04 AM

Courtroom sketch artist? I'm insulted!

I've noticed that when I doodle quick portraits of people I tend to draw them head-on, directly. I don't know why this is. Amateurishness? You almost never see people that way, really. And no personality comes through. It's like a portrait mugshot.

Also, I've found it's hard to draw people smiling. True smiles don't last long and you have to be very quick to catch what they look like. I'm practicing getting quicker but it's slow going. Basically I'm trying to get to the point where I can triangulate an entire face -- or figure -- in a glance. Somewhere I read that a truly good draftsman should be able to sketch someone falling off a roof before they hit the ground. I'm not there yet.


Joanne Mattera

March 21, 2010, 11:29 AM

I suspect that those of you who are indignant about Ed's writing "Beauty=Patriarchy" are still in schoolhouse mode. I don't agree with the sentiment, but if you could have seen the four walls of blackboard (actually, green "blackboard" paint), you would have seen many statements--some provocative, some expository, some funny--and I suspect that Ed's writing it in the middle of the discussion was meant to create more discussion (not dissing) either during the event or afterward.

Franklin had a nearly impossible task, as he acknowledged. He presented his topic well and a discussion ensued. Most people disagreed, but there was some concensus that pretty much no one in the second generation of "conceptualists" now is operating according to the early, rigorous definition.

I don't see why it's necessary for the commenters here--most of whom were not at the event--to excoriate anyone who doesn't share Franklin's opinion. The group was genial and involved. Nobody was "pathetic." Nobody's head exploded. Indeed, after the formal discussion, a number of folks stayed on to continue the discussion and to let it stretch out into other topics.

Franklin's talk was on the penultimate day of a month of events. In Hashtag Class, artists Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida created a coneptual project that has reached out beyond the four walls of the gallery. You all have participated in this conteptual project. You may wish to applaud yourselves or go wash your hands.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 11:48 AM

As I wrote in my account, I object to the need to call this art, to call it "a conceptual project that has reached out beyond the four walls of the gallery". It was a bunch of people talking and a smaller number of people listening. Why does it have to be art? Because someone says it is? Why do we have to listen to them?

No one's heads exploded because hardly anyone really listened to anything anyone else said. When that artist decided to redefine "aesthetics", Ed, standing behind her, tried to tell Franklin over her head, "That's a major argument of Conceptualists, actually." I don't know if anyone really heard what he said, or really addressed what she was saying, either, because if they had the argument would've been pretty simple: You're not allowed to redefine anything any way you want. Otherwise I could run onto the field halfway through the World Series, declare myself the winner, and go home with the Commissioner's Trophy.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 11:54 AM

Also, Joanne, ask yourself what the reaction might have been had I, while Ed was speaking, gotten up and written over his head, "CONCEPTUALISTS AND THEIR DEALERS ARE NAZIS".

I didn't see anything as provocative as "BEAUTY = PATRIARCHAL" on any wall in the place.



March 21, 2010, 11:59 AM

Help me out here, somebody. In a sentence or two, what was "conceptualists"... early, rigorous definition?



March 21, 2010, 12:16 PM

"In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art. ”

Sol Lewitt, quoted from Wikipedia's entry on Conceptual Art. Not a very imaginative source I know, but this seems to cover it.

It was initially a reaction to Pop Art right? in a strict master narrative kind of way.



March 21, 2010, 12:16 PM

I enjoyed flipping through images from the Armory via your url, Joanne. So thanks for that.

Hey, dude, check out the Noland that was up there.



March 21, 2010, 12:20 PM

I'm still hung up on how even leWitt's definition might be considered rigorous, David. Prescriptive, obviously, but rigorous?


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 12:23 PM

Hey, MC, here's that t-shirt you wanted.


Joanne Mattera

March 21, 2010, 12:29 PM

@ Chris. You say: Also, Joanne, ask yourself what the reaction might have been had I, while Ed was speaking, gotten up and written over his head, "CONCEPTUALISTS AND THEIR DEALERS ARE NAZIS".

Chris, you could have. And if you felt so strongly about it, you should have. This is not the little red schoolhouse. Someone would likely have objected to it the way you objected to Ed's comment. Still, no one's head would have exploded.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 12:31 PM

Ahab, George and a couple of other people at #class seemed very insistent on the idea that Conceptualism was a specific art movement contained within a very small group of practitioners within a very short range of time. I think something like 1965-1975. Someone mentioned Kosuth as being one of maybe two or three true Conceptualists.

Their defintion, therefore, seemed to be that Conceptualism is art made by Conceptualists, and a Conceptualist is one of a few artists who call themselves Conceptualists.

Kind of circular if you ask me.



March 21, 2010, 1:08 PM

Ahab, Joanne used rigorous, so I can't say. Maybe basic or original definition is more like it, and Lewitt nails it for me. I was actually there (as an art student), so this is how I remember it. I take rigorous to mean having to do with the discourse that goes on after the thing started as ideas that artist's had.



March 21, 2010, 1:13 PM

Chris it sounds like you could have walked in wearing full Waffen SS regalia and a short brushy mustache and been accepted as just another artist.



March 21, 2010, 1:14 PM

My experience with these things (I have had plenty of experience with them) is that there is no definition of anything, no real common purpose, no clear idea of what anyone is doing or what anyone is saying, no spirit of adventure, no drive to acheive a specific goal, no thrill of discovery, no rigorous debate, just the same old everything goes, anything goes, please don't criticize or express a clearly defined personal belief or point of view bunch of people who aren't making it and need company with others like themselves. Birds of a feather flock together because they only have one feather to go around.

There is always a middlebrow mainstream but what we have now is the worst I have every seen. It is basically anti-art.



March 21, 2010, 1:21 PM

David, exactly!

"Oh, look at that interesting comment on society and identity"

Or whatever. It's all "whatever".



March 21, 2010, 1:47 PM

Hashtag Class is not the stand in for the whole art world, yet as I watched the 3 hours of surveillance I began to realize there is a lot of truth in my speculative corollary present somewhere above, that the worst art loses its way by hanging around too long.

Ben Davis ran through a list of issues that was agreeable to most of those listening - me included - but even though the video was fuzzy and the audio spikey it became obvious that both the preacher and his choir were not turned on by what he was saying. They seemed tepid, even though many of the issues they discussed were interesting in themselves. The practice of counting involvement with such issues as art has simply become long in the tooth. It was much more exciting to question several decades ago whether Baldassari's photographs of himself blowing smoke rings were art than it is to complacently go along with the widely held assumption that complaining about this and that IS art, if the artist says it is.

Painted pictures, of course, are much longer in the tooth than concept art. Yet people still look at them, often with great relish. What this tells me is that indeed the best art makes its way by persisting. But when the art is not strong enough, the act of persisting works against it, not for it. This is not to say that anything is forever, but the picture has hung on for over 500 years. Baldassari will have some place in the history of our time's art, but all that flowed from his stance, not - and hardly 50 years have passed. Baldassari had fire in his belly, the current group seems only to have a practiced and well executed digestive process.



March 21, 2010, 2:09 PM

I think Joan Mattera's description gets close to correctly describing the dynamic at #class.

I give Franklin a lot of credit for participating, he had to make a bit more than a subway ride to attend. For all you provincial artists out there who had some misguided high hopes that Franklin was going to ride in and set things straight, well that just shows you the extent of your magazine fed misperception of the art world.

There is a considerable amount of verity among artists views about how art should be. No one has a lock on one view or another and I am sure a number of NYC artist were in agreement or sympathetic with Franklins sentiments. And of course there were those who disagreed, if only to provide fodder for the discussion.

The fact is that this was not an academic symposium. During the run of the exhibition there were a number of topics which were discussed and explored. More than anything else I would consider #class to have been an extended performance piece and Franklin was one of the participants.

While there was a live feed of the event, it didn't really capture what was occurring which was more interpersonal and fluid than your typically captive academic environment. This means that, as Joan noted, what gets written on the wall, or said aloud may not be intended as a manifesto but as a provocative nudge to be taken humorously or not.

Franklin was pushed for a definition on conceptualism but in the end it was clear to the audience that there was a brief historical period of conceptual art thirty years ago along with the expected 2nd and 3rd generation adherents. The way people are now using the term is misapplied and means something else which appears to be vaguely defined but has the power to scare people who are insecure.

In my opinion, #class is an exhibition which will be remembered in the future, how it will be mythologized isn't quite yet clear but I believe it will be. I was glad that Franklin participated and we had a good time afterward.



March 21, 2010, 2:33 PM

George, how much of the surveillance did you watch?

I once helped WMU recruit a basketball player and the athletic department offered me a sideline pass to their football games in appreciation. I turned it down. I learned that the field itself was the worst place to see what was going on, when I played the game myself. The next worse place was, of course, the sidelines. Looking from up in the stands was much better, and of course, television and film offered the best viewpoints of all.

While the surveillance was hardly HDTV, it offered me the opportunity to see almost everyone and what they were doing at once. Sitting at floor level, that would not have been possible. The tape even offered something like an instant replay, where I could back it up a minute or two, and run through something I didn't quite get a second or third time.

From my elevated viewpoint, for instance, it was clear that your contribution was presented with more conviction and confidence than most of those sitting at the table. Chris, who was sitting at floor level, disagrees apparently. He was there and I wasn't, but being there isn't necessarily the gold standard. I remember from playing football that I didn't understand what went on in a game until I saw the films. Being in the middle of the action introduces its own kind of fog.



March 21, 2010, 3:08 PM

John, I didn't watch the ones where I was there, I did watch a few of the others. What you don't see are the little looks, the interpersonal communications that occur with the roll of an eye rather than a word.

Further, when you are in the same room with someone a different etiquette exists than in other forms of online communication. One of the ways that #class functioned was to create an environment where artists with similar interests or just curiosity could participate in a slightly structured way which didn't require at the outset that everyone knew each other. It allowed for a common ground to be established and it introduced people to each other.

It was the participatory aspect of #class which helped to make it more interesting. No longer were you just an observer but you were a participant as well. Moreover, I think a number of the participants including those present in the audience will take something forward from #class into future interactions with the other people they've met.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 3:56 PM

Oh no, John, I hope I didn't give you the idea that George lacked confidence and conviction. He didn't at all, and it was pretty clear even from where I was sitting. George was also obviously a clearer thinker and less dogmatic than anyone present. Of course he tried to steer the conversation his own way -- claiming Conceptualism is thirty years old and no one really does it any more, for example, and bringing up Roberta Smith's essay -- but he wasn't pushy. In fact I wish he'd been more pushy because he'd relax back into his chair as someone else began speaking, even if that someone else was incoherent and off-topic. George wouldn't give an inch to Franklin but he retreated in front of those two women artists at mid-table, neither of whom had a working neuron between them.

I agree, George, that meeting different people and talking to them was worthwhile. I even said that in my write-up. I don't know why we have to classify that as some "extended performance piece" with Franklin as "one of the participants". Is there some reason it couldn't be a garden-variety bullshit session?



March 21, 2010, 4:14 PM

"Schoolhouse mode." I see. So if someone disagrees strongly enough, it automaticallly means that person is some sophomoric idiot. Great. Sorry I bothered. It was obviously a waste of time, but hey, at least I didn't get accused of sour grapes (which is a good thing, since in my case, there's no way to make that stick, since I'm neither an artist nor any sort of art-related functionary). Maybe it's just a NYC thing, after all. Or maybe it's another, uh, mode, but I'll refrain from being more explicit, as that would also, no doubt, be a waste of time. I'll go back to my desk now and try to be quiet. I'd hate to have to get study hall or something.



March 21, 2010, 6:11 PM

"Well executed digestive process" John? Which means the product is..?

George likes to pin the "out of date" label on things. It is nice to see him pinning it on conceptualism instead of types of art I like.

He & I disagree here all the time but I suspect (as has been said already) that he was one of the more articulate participants.

A collegue I work with- a sort of semi-conceptualist, I suppose - once accused me of being 30 years out of date. I replied, no, YOU are 30 years out of date; I am 50 years out of date!

Chris seems to have a problem calling such an event art. I do too. If anything can be art, art isn't much of anything.



March 21, 2010, 6:12 PM

I can't argue with you at all, George, about the person to person contact. I did see something happening from the tape that was encouraging, though, that many who contribute here apparently didn't, and I may not have either, had I been on the floor with the rest of you. That said, I really wish I had been there, but that was not meant to be. I would have liked to meet you, Chris, and Piri too - for sure - and some of the others as well, especially the Marx guy, who seems like he is not all that convinced of what he nonetheless says as having as much to do with art as he says it does.

While it was not a watershed event, it was a "drop" and real cultural movement has slowed to a crawl, so a drop is not insignificant.

Chris, I guess I got your remarks wrong. I remember something about George's hat and his not speaking clearly and took off from there (I'm getting lazy at re-reading threads this long). Sorry. But if you go into the tape to the point where George speaks he sounds as clear as anyone, and much more clear than most and, as you say, speaks quite coherently. He certainly did not bandy about a list of PC topics.

Participation usually is of value, in and of itself, when parties are at odds with each other. Clearly that happened during this event. As an ex-philosopher I can't call it "philosophy" anymore than as an artist can I call it "art", but those gathered around that table represent a lot of people that I wish would expand their perspective to include if not embrace the real stuff. Duchamp is said to have liked Pollock, after all. There is no need to support the right theory to get art.



March 21, 2010, 6:24 PM

It sounds like a grand bullshit session, with some intelligent people participating. Nothing wrong with that. I picked up on Mira Schor's presentation (On Failure and Anonymity), have exchanged messages with her on Facebook, become FB friends, and ordered a couple of her books.


Joanne Mattera

March 21, 2010, 6:29 PM

Jump to whatever conclusions you wish, but "Schoolhouse mode" is simply my shorthand for describing the old-fashioned way of running a classroom, which #class definitely was not.

I visit and comment on a number of blogs and I have to tell you, the tone here is too curmudgeonly for me. Adios. Good luck to you all.



March 21, 2010, 6:37 PM

About # 86, opie. I see where you are going and it sounds good, but actually, the "well executed digestive process" has become too tepid to make smelly disgusting stuff that is really poo. Though there is a case to be made that it is toxic, it just seemed so well rehearsed on that tape that the word "harmless" kept springing into my mind, like twidling ones thumbs.

Baldessari, the example I used, was at least a little scary. Substituting a laundry list of well accepted topics for real art, no matter how interesting they might be if ever discussed in depth, no longer seems important enough to label with the s-word. But still, "well executed digestive process" does point that way.



March 21, 2010, 6:45 PM

"too curmudgeonly for me. Adios. Good luck to you all."

I'm a New England Yankee, descended from ship captains and used to occasional bad nor'easters.



March 21, 2010, 7:47 PM

Of course he tried to steer the conversation his own way -- claiming Conceptualism is thirty years old and no one really does it any more, for example, and bringing up Roberta Smith's essay

Well, not exactly. As I recall I entered the conversation when it became apparent that everyone was using the cord "conceptualism" differently and pointed out that "Conceptual Art" really only existed for a brief period 40 years ago.

My position is that people are incorrectly using the term "conceptual art" as a pejorative against art they don't like or understand. I brought up the idea that there is a scientific basis for why we form emotional attachments and that the various psychological polarities correspond with the variations in response to different types or styles of art.

I suggested that what was important about Roberta Smith's article was that it gave license to a different thinking about artmaking, not that "hand made" or "painting" was better. These points weren't directed at Franklin but to the general audience.

Chris is right in that I wasn't pushy, it didn't seem appropriate in this particular situation. I did fight for the floor during the Rant session on Saturday.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 7:48 PM

John sez:
Chris, I guess I got your remarks wrong.

You didn't get my remarks wrong. I must have been less than clear. I described George as mumbly but I didn't mean he wasn't coherent and comprehensible. I was trying to describe his manner, which was very much in keeping with my personal stereotype of the New York artist.

He did attempt a few arguments by authority, the authority in this case being him. As Franklin pointed out, if your debate opponent is older you can claim they're behind the times, and if they're younger you can say they're inexperienced. George likes that last one (since almost everyone except Piri is younger than he is). "I was there!" he declaimed at one point.

So not everyone was open and debating fairly. There were plenty of logical fallacies to go around.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 8:03 PM

George sez:
My position is that people are incorrectly using the term "conceptual art" as a pejorative against art they don't like or understand.

I have serious problems with this. It's not a matter of not understanding it, it's a matter of understanding it all too well and finding it lacking. The dislike comes after, not before, the initial judgment. I don't walk in thinking, "This is conceptual art [misapplying the term, as you'd say] therefore I dislike it." I walk in as open-minded as I can, look around, realize it's another collection of crap, notice it's also conceptual, and leave. I do the same thing with painting, sculpture, and photography, except in those cases there's a probability (usually very small) that the work will be good. Whereas with conceptual work it never is.

As I said in my write-up, if someone like Jen Dalton thinks her art isn't conceptual, then she's even more deluded than I thought. I mean, either she's making art the success of which hinges on its idea content -- whether it's "interesting" or "compelling" or whatever -- in which case, since its idea content is simplistic, obvious, and shallow, it fails; or she's making art intended to be visually interesting or compelling or beautiful or sublime or whatever -- in which case, since it's none of those things (and is in fact slightly less well-designed than a PowerPoint presentation), it fails even more catastrophically. At least if she's a conceptual artist she can disown the latter, much more egregious, failure.

What I wonder is, if Jen Dalton's work isn't conceptual, then what is it? And what would qualify as conceptual? Those two dopey women never defined it except to use words like "compelling" and "patriarchal".

Whatever Jen's work is -- give it whatever name you like -- Franklin's talk applies to it and her. And Powhida's, Christopher K. Ho's, and any number of other artists whose work litters Chelsea even now. We call is conceptual. Give me a better name and I'll call it that. Doesn't matter. It's still the same non-visual, idea-based, textually explained crap.



March 21, 2010, 8:13 PM

I think John L and I graduated from art school about the same time, right at the start of the Conceptual Art movement. I don't know what John L experienced, but I was working in LA at the time and the shift in attention away from painting was abrupt. Not that painting stopped but that the artistic and critical dialogue dried up and became static. It made the next decade difficult.

So, yes Chris, I was there, I do know what went on. I share this because I believe it is important, because the experience of the majority of younger artists starts in 1990 and what do they know about Pop Art, or Minimalism, let alone AbEx or Conceptualism? It all comes from books and writings by those who have spent a good part of their lifetime defending a particular bias one way or the other.

Further Chris misrepresents me completely. I am generally more interested in the ideas and opinions of artist who are younger than me. I find that they haven't spent a lifetime locking themselves into a corner, trying to validate an idea they had forty years ago. Frankly it's the kids that I find the most interesting, for the most part they are still open minded which I find refreshing.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 8:33 PM

I do appreciate your sharing of your experiences, George. I think it's good to hear from people who were there like you and OP and John and Piri. I enjoy it.

But there's a difference between telling us young'uns about what things looked like then and claiming some special status. You were alive back then, George, but I don't see your name in the history books next to Donald Judd and Chris Burden.



March 21, 2010, 8:42 PM

I got back to Boston late last night and spent the day on other things. But I want to address a couple of points:

Whatever claims that Powhida and Dalton make for #class as art, they are not shared by Winkleman himself, who views it as a series of talks and like events.

Dalton didn't say that she wasn't a conceptualist, but rather that she wasn't a pure conceptualist. I missed the opportunity to make a point that, in retrospect, really needed making - that hardly anyone thinks of himself as a pure formalist. Conceptual or basically conceptual artists have an idea that purists are trying to spoil the party. This was evident in the way this talk was initially framed and in language that was used in the discussion afterwards.

I didn't find the women in the middle of the table to be especially obstreperous or dense or anything of that kind. I found them to be misled in the standard directions, particularly the inability to deal with beauty as the product of aesthetics operating at their height. They wanted to substitute "compelling" for "beautiful." I missed an opportunity here to ask what was being compelled.

I realize now that if I ever do this again, I basically need to memorize the talk in its entirety and only refer to notes when necessary. Writing may give you an opportunity to hone your language to perfection, but in speaking it's better to let the details go in favor of natural exposition. Now I know.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 8:53 PM

I guess I thought you'd done more public speaking. Personally the one time I had to speak before a good-sized group I panicked. Surprised the heck out of me. I'd been on stage before, acting and singing, and been fine. But speaking, wow, a whole other thing. It's tough to do. But you have those memory techniques to help.

I completely forgot that Powhida tried to call you an essentialist, whatever that is.



March 21, 2010, 8:56 PM

This was my second prepared talk, the first being that FATE paper last year, and that was really a delivery of a paper rather than a talk.



March 21, 2010, 9:14 PM

Joanne: your comments here intimate that Artblog.netters are indignant curmudgeons whose learning begins and ends in a one-room schoolhouse. I can handle that because I can read for pertinent content and ignore tripe.

But if you can't read for content, critical praise and complaint alike, then why the fuck put a three-hour video of the event on the internet? Then top it off suggesting that we can't really get the point of it if we weren't there.

Did you even read John's hopeful and ever-so-gracious comments?

George: The way people are now using the term is misapplied and means something else which appears to be vaguely defined but has the power to scare people who are insecure.

Both you and Joanne have, in referring to the definite state of conceptualism, gestured only vaguely to definitions of conceptualism past and present - but neither of you has offered one yourself. If Sol leWitt's is not sufficiently contemporary, then c'mon, show me just how frightening a definition of conceptualism can be. Or even better: how rigorous.

-- Preview ADD --

Franklin: it is indeed crucial to understand that conceptualists and formalists may only be so to a greater or lesser degree. My understanding though is that modernists (new modernists, whether makers or ideators or some combination thereof) are modernist in the head. Modernism is not a hat to wear, nor a peg to hang it on. The rest of everyone, if they want to, can name themselves after whatever hats they most like the look of; the irony being that selection of a fashionable head covering utilises the very faculty they deny/doubt exists. It is the straightforward recognition and exercise of one's taste that makes one modernist.



March 21, 2010, 9:14 PM

Franklin, once I was invited to give a talk at a high falutin' conference on art of the 21st century, well before the 21st century commenced, 1990 or so I think. Without thinking, I agreed to let my talk be distributed to everyone attending on the first day of the conference, and since I was scheduled to speak on the last day, they had lots of time to read it. Peter Plagens was an earlier speaker and decided to stay for the end, he said, just so he could disagree with me, even though it put a kink in his schedule.

So there I was at the microphone and looked down and saw all these people with a copy of my paper, some annotated, ready to read along as I "spoke" and Peter, arms folded, in the back of the room, close to the door. I thought, why the hell should I read this, why don't we just cut to the chase and start arguing. But my obedient side couldn't quite get it up to say that, so I started to read and automatically began word waltzing around my prepared text, up down, and around, saying approximately the same thing, but not in the same order, not with the same words, just using what I could glance down and see as a guide. Soon everyone quit trying to read my paper and began listening. So it dawned on me that outlines are better, for me, if I am forced to speak in public, because they would help keep my bearings better than looking at undifferentiated paragraphs. You might try that, Franklin, before memorizing a talk. A memorized talk would sound more artificial than a read one.

Like I said, Clem is the only person I know who could truly write like he talked. He set the gold standard. For those of us who can't meet that standard, outlines are a pretty good compromise.

After my "reading", Peter asked to be the first to ask a question because he was in danger of missing his plane: how could you (me) so easily dismiss his fave artist of the time, Joseph Bueys. So I told the story of how I mistook a Bueys installation in the Museum of Modern Art as something the movers forgot to remove when they changed out an exhibit. Bueys was literally a walk by, not even a slow down. Fischl, I think I added, was a slow down but not a stop. I couldn't really say why it was so easy, just that it WAS on the easiest side of my basic responses. That's where it always winds up too. You can't do much except report your own experience honestly, using words that illuminate as well as you can, the nature of the experience. To answer Plagens, I used a somatic reference. It did not appear to change his response one bit. To this day I wonder if he still likes Bueys as much as he did then.



March 21, 2010, 9:16 PM

Chris, Where do you get off suggesting I was "claiming some special status" other than my saying I was there?

Screw you, I was there, there like a lot of other artists working in the climate of that period, just like you are working in the climate of today's artworld. In your lame argumentativeness you miss the entire point, that when we view the artworld of the past, it has been highly filtered and mythologized. What kids (not you) know is based upon what they've read and generally speaking, by the time they read the tale, it's been neatly packaged up for consumption.

Specifically, there is a huge difference between both the intent and feeling of what "conceptual art" means today and how it was experienced by all the artists who were working in the heyday of Conceptual Art in the 70's. One didn't have to be special to know this, you just had to be actively working as an artist then.

It is such a F#%king provincial attitude to suggest that because someone isn't in the history books they don't exist. I suggest that you make your personal peace with that now and get it over with.



March 21, 2010, 9:29 PM

BTW, I agree with Joanne Mattera's general feeling about the general climate here.

I feel that Franklin's trip to NYC served him well and that as a result of #class there are a number of other artists who may find interest in his blog. So far a half dozen of you have managed to control the dialog here and keep it as a private club. This is not very inviting to newcomers and Joanne is not the first to complain of this. On the other hand, it's a nice safe little club where no one will ever find their beliefs challenged.

Ahab, What does a definition of 'conceptualism' have to do with making your art? It has nothing to do with my practice so I don't really care.



March 21, 2010, 9:36 PM

CHRIS! Don't you agree that living artists and art history don't mix very well? Besides, George has a rather nice CV. For instance, he was shown a couple of times by Ulrike Kantor, a basically blue chip (as in famous dead artists) dealer, during one of the periods when she was willing to put up with a living artist. She is one of the big league types. But being famous, in the history books, etc. is not the same as being an observer of an art scene, including an important art scene. Tony Smith was an observer of the New York School long before he was considered to be a significant member. In fact, he was damn near the end of his life before his work was recognized (on the cover of TIME no less, while the art dept was run by Piri), even though he drank with and painted with Pollock long long before that.

"I was there" is not the gold standard of truth (just look at experiments conducted around observations of staged crimes), but it is quite worthwhile. And fame does not affect the accuracy of the observations, in any case.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 9:49 PM

George, you claimed special status when you said "I was there" as a refutation of one of Franklin's statements. Being alive during a particular moment in history gives you no special ability to explain it, understand it, or tell anyone else about it, except insofar as it looked to you at the time. You declared "I was there!" in response to something Franklin said, and went on as if your being there somehow made you correct, as if you were the personal architect of what had gone on. Hence my crack about the history books: If Chris Burden wanted to lecture me or Franklin on Conceptualism, he might have a leg to stand on, since he was (and is, I guess) a Conceptualist, one of the big ones. You, however, have nothing special to do with Conceptualism, except you happened to be alive when it was named. Whoopee! By that argument, I'm an authority on Watergate, since I was a year and a half old. Let me tell you, kids, all about how the Nixon White House operated!



March 21, 2010, 9:55 PM

@John, thanks. As I recall my "I was there" remark was made to break into a muddled discussion over what conceptual art was - short and to the point to get peoples attention.

There is a big difference between Conceptual Art, "conceptual art" and Critical Theory which was the theoretical strong arm for the last 40 years.

The reason I don't care about any of this is simple. Forty or fifty years is a lifetime for philosophical fads, at this stage all the ideas have been ground up into dust and people are just playing games with language and footnotes. Therefore I believe Critical Theory is DEAD, That while it may linger a bit, it is on it's way out and that Roberta Smith's article in the NY Times was it's obituary.

Further, it is apparent in the major art centers that a lot of new and interesting art is being made. All the time I have spent here on this blog, I can probably count without using my toes, the times there was a discussion about the work any contemporary painters. Yet, everyone here is so ready to joust with the windmills of conceptual art.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 9:55 PM

And if you don't care about the definition of Conceptualism, George, why did you attend a talk on conceptual art? A good portion of the discussion was about what conceptual art even is, and you're the one who threw your hat in the ring to say that "the intent and feeling of what 'conceptual art' means today and how it was experienced by all the artists who were working in the heyday of Conceptual Art in the 70s" are different, or something very similar. If it really doesn't matter to you and your art, then why argue the point at all?

Good way to skirt the main question, though. If so much of the stuff we see in Chelsea these days isn't conceptual art, what is it? What should we call it so we can discuss it? I've come up with "non-visual, idea-based, textually explained crap" but it's not very catchy.


Chris Rywalt

March 21, 2010, 9:57 PM

One contemporary painter we discussed recently is Gerhard Richter. Too bad his work is heavily conceptual, which we can't talk about any more, because we don't have a good word for it.



March 21, 2010, 10:05 PM

Really Chris, you are annoying. Believe it or not, I came to support Franklin it wasn't easy for him give a presentation in the lions den. It should be clear that my interaction was not much different from anyone else in the audience.

I also came to support Jennifer Dalton, who studied with one of my closest friends at UCLA. I came to support William Powhida who I didn't know before but decided I liked a lot as a person. I came for the free Buds and I came to meet a number of people that I have had dialogues with on Edward's blog and on Facebook. I attended six days of events in all because I was curious.



March 21, 2010, 10:10 PM

Woo hoo Gerhard Richter! The circle jerk is in full steam. I could come up with a dozen other painters who are making paintings that are more interesting, relevant to the moment, and good, to discuss. But nooo, I won't bother wasting my time, you do it, have fun.



March 21, 2010, 10:40 PM

George calling this blog a "private club" is inaccurate. Membership is denied to no one. Those who can't hack it may call it "too curmudgeonly" and leave, as so many have done, but that is their choice.

We are throwing "isms" around like confetti, but at the risk of being tiresome and repeating myself, the only thing that counts is whether something is any good, and we have a billion-dollar international art market out there that poroduces very, very little that is any good.

As Cris says: "Doesn't matter {what you call it}. It's still the same non-visual, idea-based, textually explained crap."



March 21, 2010, 11:07 PM

I hope George is right that "critical theory is dead".

Theory was once an interesting side show in the art parade, sometimes associating itself with the good stuff. But it became the crack through which most of the academicism of the past couple of decades has gained its foothold and began to glom onto too many things that might be healthier without it. It needs to go away for a while.

As far as the "atmosphere" around here goes, I love it. Obviously it is not for everyone, but it is the best blog about art as far as I am concerned.



March 21, 2010, 11:57 PM

George, Memory is a tricky thing. The fact that you were "there" in the 70s only makes you one of several hundred million people,and no two of them remembers the past the same way. Look at this strange show entitled "1969" at P.S. 1 -- it is only faintly reminiscent of what I remember seeing when I still writing the Art page for Time, and going around to a lot of shows in 1969. I continued to go around to the galleries in NYC in the 70s (though not as much, because I was in grad school). I went sporadically in the 80s & the 90s, too. I don't know what was going on in LA, but in NYC painting wasn't going away, not even in the 70s -- which described itself at the time as an era of "pluralism." Sure, I remember seeing a lot of art then whose appeal was intellectual rather than visual (call it conceptual if you like, but I don't insist). However, there was also Hyperrealist painting that was selling bigtime.

I knew about Hyperealism because Milton Esterow over at ARTnews assigned me around 1974 to interview a dozen big names in the art world -- Robert Hughes, Bill Rubin, Douglas Davies (covering art for Newsweek at that point), John Russell of the Times, etc. etc. The idea was to find out what was new, but the only thing my sources could cite was hyperrealism -- so Esterow never ran the article. I mentioned this to CG on the phone, and he said that he'd suggested the story to Esterow, but that Esterow's ideas about who to interview were all wrong. Instead, CG said, I should have tried to interview "all those little girls who are being brutalized by the artists." Evidently he thought they were the only ones who really knew what was going on!

In the years since, I've also learned about shows given in NY galleries in the late 60s and 70s by artists whose names I didn't know then & therefore missed the shows. In this category I would however include Bannard, Hughto, Roth, Lipsky, Wolfe, Bradley, Griefen & Bowling, just to name a few.

With the 80s, moreover, we had the big "revival" of painting in the form of neo-expressionism (an overrated style that today is mostly gathering dust in museum storerooms, but was big big big in its time). And there's a lot of painting in the galleries now; somehow we just keep coming back to it, no matter how much the scribes at the Times find it more fun (and so much easier) to review anything with a touch of "novelty" to it. Look at how the Times has been going ape for the past month or so about the performance art of Tino Sehgal at the Guggenheim and Martina Abramowicz (or whatever the hell her name is) at MoMA.

As for #class, if you want to call it a work of art, then I agree it should be classed as a performance piece, too, and as such beyond my critical sphere of expertise. I never evaluate videos or performance art in the galleries in my own column because I'm not a critic of the performing arts, I am a critic of the visual arts. I suspect that if a theater critic had come to #class, he or she would have thought it a pretty poor substitute for anything on Broadway or off-Broadway or even off-off Broadway, just as once Matthew Barney had the temerity to show one of his movies at a regular movie theater instead of in a gallery or museum. A real movie critic went to see it and panned the hell out of it.

George, I've mentioned contemporary artists I admire in this column from time to time, though I'm rather nervous about doing it as it seems I'm swimming against the tide. People here seem to prefer discussing ideas, possibly because as long as one stays in the realm of ideas we can have the illusion of consensus. If you want names of artists, may I recommend my own column, or for that matter Chris's, or any one of number of others. But I'd be careful of using that word "provincial" with reference to artists who live outside of New York --- after all, it is just as easy to be provincial in New York as it is outside of it, especially since a lot of the best art these days is neither made nor exhibited in NYC.

Chris, that T shirt says beauty=patriarchy, instead of the sign for "does not equal." Evidently Mr. Winkleman was merely quoting the T-shirt with his little message on the blackboard. I guess Artspeak would call this "appropriations" & cite it as evidence of creative thinking. For me it's just quoting a slogan intended to cause offense, in the wellworn tradition of dada which defines newness as deliberately shocking.



March 22, 2010, 12:13 AM

whoops! on the rare occasion (in my previous message) where I listed my url, I did it wrong. Hope I got it right this time (and I promise, Franklin, not to make a habit of talking about it)



March 22, 2010, 12:48 AM

Yes, Piri, that word "provincial" is a tricky one. It may have become more complimentary than pejorative with respect to the facts about where the best art gets made these days. Despite how many artists live in NYC, that number is but a tiny fraction of how many artists there are in the world. The odds are slim that it is the only place were the best artists live. And now you bring up, not the only place where they show as well. Good point.

I remember hyper-realism well. I've thought of its emergence as the point when dealers really took control of critics. It was as if dealers said to hell with criticism, we can sell hyper-realism no matter what they say. And so the critics fell in line and began doing most of their writing about whatever the dealers were showing.

CG's suggestion to interview the brutalized girls should have been in your book.

Interesting comment about the current status of neo-expressionism. They have disappeared but I didn't notice until just now.


Chris Rywalt

March 22, 2010, 8:31 AM

I direct your attention, Piri, to the author of that shirt -- me. I put it together right after MC requested it. If it looks like an equals sign and not like an equals with a line through it, it's because you're looking at a small version where the line doesn't show up. It's there, trust me.



March 22, 2010, 8:41 AM

Piri, My point at #class was that Conceptual Art as a movement flourished in the 70's. In particular it's best documented by the change in critical attitudes as seen in ArtForum, along with the birth of October magazine. As I recall it was about this time that ArtForum moved from LA to NYC.

There is a difference between Conceptualism as an art movement and the way the influence or residue of its critical approach was adopted by the writers to become what is now called Critical Theory (aka PoMo, poststructuralism, or "conceptual art"). At #class I didn't get the chance to elaborate on this point which is unfortunate because it has affected the critical approach applied to all art forms over the last forty years and which I contend is on it's last legs as we speak.

I don't debate the point that painting was still going on during the 70's - that never was an issue.

Nobody here is talking about contemporary artists and their approaches towards painting today, most of the efforts are expended by complaining. On the other hand

Griefen? Please. I cannot believe that the lurkers don't have some better ideas than that. At the #class critics roundtable someone mentioned, in the context of the Whitney Biannual, some new variant on minimalism? Or Conceptual Romanticism? I think I'll have that please, sounds fun.

And, "provincial" is an attitude which one can have anywhere.



March 22, 2010, 9:27 AM

George, Griefen has done some worthy pictures, especially when he avoided the "doodle/mess" problem by edging up to "nothing", but not falling for the purity aspect that can easily backfire. The promo for the Snyder show that Piri recommends compares him to Ad Reinhardt, and the JPEGs they furnish are consistent with that comparison. I have not seen this work, and clearly if there is anything to see in it, it must be seen in person because the JPEGs depict the paintings as having collapsed to being "nothing" or perhaps just "not much at all" - the evaporation of art in the name of purity or some such.

John McCraken butted up against the "nothing" problem with his gaudy planks many years ago and got somewhere with it ... further, I suspect, than Griefen has in his revisit of minimalism. Gaudy is "something" and in the showdown, art must furnish something because the purity of nothing is still nothing. But this is a speculative suspicion as far as the new Griefens go since I have not seen them.

For the record, and whatever it is worth, I have never gone for Reinhardt, and I have "seen" some of the black pictures in person. They are a pain in the ass until you realize they are nothing but a high falutin' version of dada.



March 22, 2010, 10:44 AM

"Courtroom sketch artist? I'm insulted!

I've noticed that when I doodle quick portraits of people I tend to draw them head-on, directly. I don't know why this is. Amateurishness? You almost never see people that way, really. And no personality comes through. It's like a portrait mugshot.

No insult intended, Chris. I agree with Piri, that the picture's a good likeness, and agree with opie that it doesn't hint at Franklin's sweetness. It's got a just-barely-innocent-until-proven-guilty look to it. Real mug shots, of course, are photographed, but isn't it interesting how we still have the (let's face it, somewhat absurd) profession of the court-room pastel portraitist? And really, doesn't this sound like a cool job to you, Chris? Working for some media outfit (maybe you get a satin jacket with the network logo?) making candid life drawings of murders/celebrities/politicians/etc.? And you get paid! No more hiring models when you've got Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sitting for you daily...



March 22, 2010, 10:50 AM

Griefen is better than Reinhardt, and the comparison is awkward because it is made carelessly.

Reinhardt's art was always ice cold even when it was full of color. In fact, his paintings were instrumental in talking me out of my early extreme minimalism. I saw one at MoMA which was slightly wrinkled and the light reflecting from the wrinkles was more interesting than the painting. I went home and wrote NO REINHARDT! in my notebook.

Griefen's art has body & warmth despite the reductiveness.



March 22, 2010, 10:57 AM

MC The problem is that neither of the usual photos of KSM are useful for caricatures because they already are, especially the one in full garb, full beard and goggling eyes.

Whenever I see that one on TV I can't help thinking "Monty Python".

George, wht are "lurkers". Is that a characteristic of some kind or just a put-down word?



March 22, 2010, 11:22 AM

John [118] - I'm not saying Griefen never made any good paintings, I'm just not interested in them. Touching on another generation, Haunch of Venison has an exhibition curated by David Salle which I saw this weekend. Itlooked just like a 1980's ArtForum. You can put that into the 'old stuff' bin too.

There are a handful of artists making fresh painting now. some in LA, some in Europe, and some here in NYC. There clearly is a sense of change in the air at the moment and I think this is resulting in a reconsideration of a lot of the past conventions of painting, what's interesting and what's not. The idea of the monochrome canvas has been worked to death, is seriously boring and not in the race.

FTR, Jim Turrell introduced me to John McCracken in the late 60's and I was his first studio assistant. So I've seen a lot of his work and in my opinion his paintings were never very successful. I don't think I've seen the planks you linked, but generally speaking his best sculptures were the ones with the color cast in. Aside from the early lacquered planks, none of the hand painted ones were very compelling. His colored objects however are beautiful and better than any other artists working in this genera, including Anne Truitt.



March 22, 2010, 12:05 PM

Opie "lurkers" are the people who are reading the blog but not commenting - typically they are higher in number than those who comment.


Chris Rywalt

March 22, 2010, 1:34 PM

For what it's worth, I saw the Griefen show at Snyder and wasn't a thrilled as Piri. I didn't find them cold at all, but I did find them extremely minimalist to the point that they were nearly nothing. I love paint, and I love color, but each one of these paintings is basically just one big paint stroke, which is okay, but not really great.

MC, I was kidding about being insulted. In fact I respect courtroom sketch artists. We still need them, too, because some courts don't allow photography still. I can't imagine a good reason for that, but then I'm not a judge. I think it'd be neat to be a courtroom artist but not for too long -- I'd get bored.

Regarding "Conceptual Romanticism", the idea behind that phrase, as I understood it, was to say that artists today (and over the past couple of decades) are mired in Conceptualism, not as a living, active philosophy, but as a nostalgic connection to past art practices. Kind of the way the Pre-Raphaelites approached painting.



March 22, 2010, 1:51 PM

Chris, I underestimated you with the T-shirt! I apologize.

I may have something further to say about Griefen later on but at the moment I have other things to do.



March 23, 2010, 9:09 AM

I just wanted to throw out here that I agree with George's parsing of the term conceptual art: there was a definition for it in 1970, and there's everything that has grown from that work since. I see Franklin's sarcastic presentation as a worthwhile attempt to deal with that legacy. You could call it a legacy of misunderstanding. John Haber made some good points about the history of ideas in art on the "Distinctions or Dichotomy" panel last week :"What I’m saying is that when ideas enter art, they don’t spoil it and make us slaves for academic training. It’s quite the opposite. Rather art without ideas is only a style, and art that’s only a style is derivative and empty."

Talking appropriately about the history of ideas in art, Haber said: "The Renaissance artists were still very collaborative. It’s a workshop system. Raphael was the equivalent of genius but his work at the Vatican was done with a workshop. Michelangelo largely evolved his workshop from the work he did at the Sistine Chapel. But he was the exception that proved the rule. He couldn’t stand to work with people who didn’t live up to his high standards. And there was a collaboration back then of ideas as well. A whole generation, like Van Eyck, were not just painting the world in front of them; they were painting the reality that they understood. Again they were concerned with ideas, with texts and with theorists. Italians were concerned with humanism and Alberti’s writing on perspective and so on...Skip ahead to Monet. If you went up to him when he was young and painting alongside Renoir up the Seine from Paris and said, “You know, I can’t tell your work apart,” he would have taken that as a compliment, because he wasn’t trying to show off his handmade skills. He was trying to find truth - truth in light, truth in painting, truth in nature, truth in middle class life – different kinds of truths. Something happens a generation and a half later with Braque and Picasso."

And one more thought from Haber:"conceptual and performance art began out of an attempt to humanize art. They were a little sick and tired of re-treads and second generation Abstract Expressionism. They sought through their own physical bodies a one-on-one encounter with another human being."

When the discussion of conceptualism gets too convoluted, I fall back on the idea of the metaphor. I think it's a much more useful concept than conceptualism. Judge the quality of the metaphor.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 9:40 AM

Haber's writing, if that essay is anything to go by, is stilted and ungainly. And as soon as any writer uses a phrase like "the exception that proved the rule", I know I'm dealing with a sloppy thinker.

Check out this parallel he draws:

I do not own a Kindle. Not that I miss fine binding or care all that much about the feeling of a book in my hands.... In the same way, when we focus on the individual and the handmade....

Books are handmade?

His thinking is muddy across the whole of both the short and longer version of that article. "People often say that artists suffer more than their share of depression...." That's a common formation of weak writers, used to sneak in unfounded assertions, which, if you look more closely, are usually left unexamined. I'm reminded of Wikipedia, where the merciless editors often put in a superscript after such sentences saying [who?].

And when he says, "When concepts enter art, they do not ruin it", he may think he's laid the groundwork to support that assertion, but he hasn't even come close. Raphael headed a workshop, therefore art has always had a conceptual component?



March 23, 2010, 9:54 AM

Maybe I was wrong to expose Haber to your withering criticism Chris. O.K. Haber does sometimes have a hard time coming to a point. Yes I think that because Raphael had a workshop, we can see how all art is conceptual and always has ideas embedded in it. That's why I prefer to think about the quality of metaphor in a work of art.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 10:04 AM

I don't see what Raphael's saying "Tony, you work on those trees over there, and Frankie, I want you to paint in some putti in this area" has to do with concepts in art.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 10:10 AM

And anyway it's a straw man argument -- I'm beginning to think almost all arguments require straw men -- since no one has ever claimed that art exists without ideas. As Franklin said in his talk, "Most and arguably all art has a conceptual component". Has anyone ever said "We need art that has no ideas in it at all"?



March 23, 2010, 10:15 AM

David, you brought up Mark Kingwell a few threads back, and I remembered that I had brought him up here years ago (2005), on this thread and this one, too...



March 23, 2010, 10:40 AM

Yeah Chris, I guess that's what I'm getting at. It's a straw man argument about conceptual art. Maybe Frankln was trying to point that out. That's where his piece led me anyway. And as for Raphael's workshop, the Lewitt "founding" definition was exactly that - Tony paint this stripe here, then this stripe. Nothing much new there.

MC I'll get to the links on Kingwell. Thanks. As I said I just noticed his book during an idle moment in Borders and recalled he spoke at a furniture conference I attended over 10 years ago. Also, he introduces his book with a good discussion of irony - another concept that is thrown around these days without much thought. Chris's mention of Kant a few threads back reminded me of the book, which I haven't really dug into yet. The essay "Art Will Eat Itself" looks promising.

"Logically speaking, criticism and evaluation of art remain distinct from the philosophy of art proper, so most of the resulting voluminous chat about art is confused level-jumping, specific comments straining for an impossible generality - impossible because nothing general can be true enough to stand, and nothing true can be general enough to satisfy the craving. In the resulting vacuum of thought, art itself tries to take over the job of saying what it is about. Since good artists are often bad philosophers, the results are frequently excrutiating."



March 23, 2010, 10:52 AM

And of course it was Duchamp who whispered in Donald Judd's ear (metaphorically) "Have someone else make your art." But Duchamp was friends with Joseph Cornell. I wrote about Duchamp and Cornell here, as a way of perhaps undoing some of the damage Duchamph has wrought, at least for myself.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 10:55 AM

LeWitt's philosophy was distinctly different from Raphael's workshop, however, in that LeWitt specifically intended works that could be committed by anyone provided they followed his rules. The rules therefore are the work of art, and the actual implementation secondary. I'm fairly sure Raphael would've found that absurd, especially compared to his workshop, where he oversaw all the work, which was done by skilled and highly trained craftsmen he had taught personally and vetted at every stage of the project. To say nothing of the major, more important passages, which of course he did himself. Comparing Sol LeWitt to Raphael is like comparing "How to Draw a Baseball" to the Yankees.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 10:58 AM

Or, to put it slightly differently, I own a copy of Mel Bay's Modern Guitar Method Grade 1, so I must be Eric Clapton. Fetch me my Stratocaster, slave, I feel a concert coming on!



March 23, 2010, 11:02 AM

Chris, Wiki's "merciless editors" are notorious, and intrusive and hair-splitting and snotty, but when one of them told me an entry I had written was "a nice job" I felt like a kid getting his head patted.

Excellence thrives when there are standards and criticism based on standards. When anything goes, everything goes.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 11:19 AM

It should come as no surprise that I love Wikipedia.

In fact I think a Gothic cathedral is probably closer to Wikipedia than it is to visual art. Eric S. Raymond famously compared two approaches to software as "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" but, curiously, I think Wikipedia is closer to a cathedral. Maybe because ESR and I think about cathedrals rather differently.



March 23, 2010, 11:26 AM

Chris, yeah you're right about the difference between Lewitt and Raphael. Think of Lewitt's definition as an update for a time when skill has been thought of as a second rate concept. I think they came up with it (conceptual art)because they were looking at so much second rate Ab Ex painting. So they wanted to get rid of all that brushy, emotional, hand made stuff for a while. It seems like a reasonable thing to try. Better, at any rate, than doing more second rate ab ex painting.

Here's the updated link to Kingwell in Canadian Art that MC referred to.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 11:56 AM

I have this friend who calls me up about once a week. Every phone call with him lasts an hour almost exactly. I don't mind the calls, exactly, because he's the one friend who calls me just to tell me what's going on in his life and not because he wants something from me. ("My computer's broke again!")

Usually he calls me from the road somewhere. Usually I get to hear him stop at some fast food place, order his dinner, and then eat it while he rambles on.

Every so often he calls me from home, though, and then I get to hear a play-by-play of whatever TV show he's watching at the time. If he isn't watching TV, he might then be reminded of a show he once saw, and then he'll describe it to me line by line. The show is almost always one of "South Park", "Seinfeld", or "The Simpsons".

Kingwell has managed to recreate this experience for me in an essay about art. Way to go!



March 23, 2010, 1:18 PM

Along the lines of the assistants to Raphael and LeWitt discussion, I just received a "brochure" put out by Gagosian-Steidl about their publication of Kerouac's ON THE ROAD in an edition of 350 numbered and signed books, designed by Ed Ruscha. The brochure itself is classy, bound together by a clever single black string and printed on very high quality matte paper. But the point here is that Ruscha, as designer (not "artist"), used the assistance of the very best craftsmen he could find and set the standard that guided their work at a very high level.

Some for instances: he used letterpress, not offset lithography for the 288 page book. Paper is 220 gram Hahnemuhle, 12.8 inches x 17.5 inches each page. Blind embossing is used for setting all photos, which are printed separately on Fuji Archive paper and tipped-in by hand. The cover is leather bound and so is the slipcase. These are not techniques that anyone off the street can execute. In fact, not many professional print houses are able to execute them.

Interestingly, the cover design is a drawing of the words "On The Road" done by Kerouac himself, not Ruscha. It is done in a perspectival way that resembles some of the stuff Ruscha was to do later, but is not Ruscha's work.

One of the most notable facts is that Ruscha lists himself as the book's designer. I have noticed many artists who look down on designers, often with serious contempt. Yet here is an individual who has risen quite high in the art system's food chain, and does not hesitate to label himself a designer, with Kerouac getting a much larger billing on the front page.

The issue is as it always is, doing ones job as well as it can be done and ensuring that everyone else involved does likewise. After that, it really does not matter whether one works as a lone genius or as a team of collaborators. Except in this case, no single collaborator - apparently - was capable of achieving the final result by himself.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 2:13 PM

Everything, ultimately, is a collaborative effort. (This is one of the arguments I use against extreme libertarians.) I don't mine my own pigments, press my own flax seed, grow my own cotton, or snare local squirrels and badgers to make brushes. (I did find a dead squirrel once and considered if I could make brushes from its tail, but decided it was too yucky.) The lone genius really is a myth. If we ever did stumble upon someone living off the land and drawing on their cave walls with charcoal, we wouldn't hail them as a genius, we'd think they were crazy.



March 23, 2010, 6:39 PM

"Everything, ultimately, is a collaborative effort."

Absolutely. The lone genius is one of the shaggiest myths of our business, and one of the most misleading. Most of the artists of the past who contributed to it were "lone" because they were batty, not because they happened to be geniuses.

Many artists seem strange because they are more normal than most people. This sets them apart from the crowd, which basically is a lot of people acting crazy in the same way.

We get a bad rap.



March 23, 2010, 6:57 PM

Amen brother Opie. John I love your example. It sounds like a great book, although one I'm sure I couldn't afford. I have my dog-eared copy of On the Road and it will have to do.



March 23, 2010, 8:24 PM

I wouldn't dispute Haber's claim that there are "ideas" in earlier art (at least, as long as one equates "ideas" to identifiable subject matter or references to the external world, which is what he seems to be doing). But the difference between the artists cited by Haber and the sort of conceptual art that one finds in Chelsea is that Raphael, Monet etc. knew how to create visually appealing work, whereas the common or garden conceptualist relies on bad photographs, clumsily made videos, inane writing and routine or downright ugly manufactured artifacts, none of which add up to a visually appealing experience. However clever or "profound" the ideas in a work, the ultimate test is how the art looks, not how it was made or what the artist thought he or she was trying to "say."

Re the sanity of artists -- Opie, you've got to admit that it takes a certain kind of chutzpah to believe one can make a living in the art world. I think one has to be if not crazy then certainly a big, big dreamer to attempt it. That said, most artists whom I know are very practical people (they have to be), and most non-artists (in their heart-of-hearts) envy them.

Re Griefen, I've already reviewed his show for my column, so I don't want to belabor the subject here, John, I just want to say that seeing Griefen as an heir to Reinhardt has nothing to do with Griefen's own likes or influences. It's strictly Gary Snyder's idea. I think Snyder is sincere in perceiving this analogy. I also think his sincerity may be enhanced by a suspicion that this is maybe the best way to sell Griefen's paintings in a marketplace where it's a plus to be associated with Reinhardt and a minus to be associated with Olitski. Griefen to the best of my knowledge doesn't like Reinhardt & has evolved from an Olitskian style. For earlier work, take a look at the website that Terry Fenton set up for him some years ago. Fenton also wrote the catalogue for Griefen's last show, at Salander-O'Reilly in 2004. By that time, Griefen had already evolved to his current style, though he hadn't yet achieved the full range of color, shape and size that he displays in the current exhibition). I like what opie wrote about Griefen in this column, the warmth & so on.



March 23, 2010, 8:33 PM

David, the brochure from Gagosian does not mention price, of course. But a friend of mine who collects prints just called and said a print dealer sent him a price list that included ON THE ROAD and it costs $10,000. That is probably a good investment. Ruscha's place in the museums is assured, the title is a nearly perfect choice, the execution of the book is truly exceptional, and the edition is quite limited.



March 23, 2010, 8:52 PM

John, I'm sure that's a reasonable price given the names involved, the exclusivity of the edition, and the quality of the product as you've described it. It's miles away, however, from my romantic memory of Kerouac and Cassidy on the road in the 1940's. 10,000 probably could have sustained them for a year or two.



March 23, 2010, 8:58 PM

It may well be a good investment as such, but there's no question better art can be had for that amount of money. It all depends on what kind of bang one wants from it.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 9:22 PM

I do rather wonder, not to piddle in anyone's Post Toasties, what the point of such an expensive book might be. There's a certain satisfaction to be had in a thing made well, is, in the end, just a book, the text of which is equally enjoyable and readable in a copy from a used book store, where you can probably pick it up for a dollar.

I've never finished On the Road myself and really know more about the people involved from Ginsberg's "Howl".

who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad
stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these
poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver -- joy
to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls
in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses'
rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with
gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret gas-station
solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too


who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who
came back to Denver & waited in vain, who
watched over Denver & brooded & loned in
Denver and finally went away to find out the
Time, & now Denver is lonesome for her heroes



March 23, 2010, 9:29 PM

Yes Jack, in a world glutted with art, at just about any price point for a specific work, better art can be had. My point, though, was not directly aesthetic, but monetary. That said, I also believe that any purchaser will get a seriously good object to go along with their investment.

Since single pictures by Ruscha have already topped $3 million at auction, I'm (pleasantly) surprised that he and Gagosian devoted so much time, effort, and resources to a project with a retail value of "just" $3.5 million.

Personally I would love to have this book. As you know, I've been a fan of Ruscha's for some time and I have a copy of his and Bengston's BUSINESS CARDS book that is worth in the neighborhood of $10k (I am told) due to the small edition, signatures, and other details. I'm tempted to sell it to get the new one. ON THE ROAD is BUSINESS CARDS on steroids. The problem with me is that I would want to read ON THE ROAD rather than preserve it. Once a book is read, does that mean it is used? (joke) But really, I've been sloppy with my collection of Ruscha books because I would distribute them to students in my classes for them to handle and experience as they ought to be experienced, so some of them are rough around the edges, though BUSINESS CARDS was made quite robustly and survived being read quite well.

As I've gotten to know Chris R on this blog, I have imagined that he might have done the same thing with these "art books" that I did under the same circumstances, though he has never said anything about such things.



March 23, 2010, 9:38 PM

Chris posted while I was typing. Now I'm pretty sure he would have done exactly what I speculated.

As far as the "point" Chris asks about, it seems simple enough to me. Take a great text and make the best book out of it that you can. There is some irony, though, in that when it reaches a certain level of perfection, many may be reluctant to read it. Not me, though. It would become one of my favorite books and would therefore be subject to all the slings and arrows of outrageous reading. (I'd be careful, though, and don't think I'd let students handle this one.)

When I was a student the art library let me read the Albers color book, though I had to wear gloves. It was executed at the same level of intensity that Ruscha used for ON THE ROAD. I doubt they let anyone read it today.

Is this "conceptual" or what?



March 23, 2010, 9:49 PM

Final to Chris: all copies of the same text may be equal, but all books containing the text are not. I have always much preferred hardbacks, for instance, over paperbacks - which is why I bought the hardback version of Piri's book. She seemed surprised a bit when I placed my order. To me it was a no-brainer; I enjoy reading a well made book more than a paperback and always get them if I think the book is a good one.



March 23, 2010, 10:01 PM

David, $10,000 today is the rough equivalent of $750 in 1942 (selected because it was "the 40s" and the year I was born) according to the inflation calculator. My dad bought a new Chevy Fleetline in 1951 for $900 - a fortune we thought at the time. My mother loved it.


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 11:08 PM

I've always preferred hardcovers to paperbacks, although I was never that particular about it. Now I have several antique paperbacks of James Bond books (I got them out of my great-aunt's attic years ago) which I can't bear to read because they've become so brittle they're falling apart. That makes me think I should invest in hardcovers more often.

I'm bothered a lot more by series of books where I have various types -- hardcovers and paperbacks, trade paperbacks and regular, and so on -- so they don't look nice on a shelf. An author with a lot of books, like Terry Pratchett, also outlives styles, so the books may run with one type of cover for a while and then change, usually to something less nice. (His books used to look like this and now they look like this.) That bugs me.

Generally I love used books because I love used book stores. I love how they smell. I love looking over shelves. I love serendipity.

I do believe that things -- anything -- should be used, John. For years my mother had a 1969 Cutlass convertible which she used for everyday driving. That's my kind of philosophy: Why keep it if you're not going to use it?

On the flip side, my kids have really destroyed things. When my parents moved out of the house I grew up in, I ended up bringing home these Lego spaceships which I'd put together and never taken apart. I didn't know what else to do with them -- display them in the china cabinet? -- so (after making sure they weren't worth anything on eBay) I gave them to my son. Of course he immediately took them apart but I steeled myself, thinking, hey, what good is a Lego set you don't take apart? It might as well be a glued model then, and what's the point of that? Not long after I nearly stepped on a Lego piece in the middle of the living room floor and looked down to see my son had broken it. Broken it, not just taken it apart.

But, really, what was I saving it for?

These days I've been using the library a lot. That way I don't have to try to store the damned books when I'm done with them. I'm trying to lighten my load. I've got a lot of stuff I can't bear to part with, but at least I can work on not building up too much more.

I definitely do not need a $10,000 book.



March 23, 2010, 11:30 PM

I definitely do not need a $10,000 book.

But Chris, SUPPOSE you had it. Would you read it or would you store it until it is worth $250,000? (Which it likely will within your lifetime.)


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 11:42 PM

I should point out, in my curmudgeonly fashion, that I probably won't be worth that much. For one thing, there'd have to be a buyer. And for another, there'd have to be a buyer willing to spend that much on it. And I doubt either of those things will happen. The hype of art as investment is hilariously out of proportion with the reality.

I also want to add -- because I'm cranky -- that one of the reasons my attic and basement is so full of crap is I was saving it because it would one day be worth something to someone. You know what it's all worth? Crap. I lugged almost twenty years of Playboys around -- and they're heavy -- because I thought they'd have value to a collector. Recently I sold them all for $1 apiece and was glad to get them out of my house.

I also have a few boxes of comics which are worth squat. So basically I no longer believe in the concept of collecting.

Now that I've got my grumpies out of the way, let me address the question as it was intended. I probably would read it. I wouldn't throw it around and most likely wouldn't read it on the toilet -- which is where I do most of my reading -- but I'd probably read it at least once.

I have a first edition printing of Buckminster Fuller's first book, Nine Chains to the Moon. (What's extra cool about it is there was an introduction where Bucky made a list of predictions, most of which never came true -- "New York City will change its name to Radio City", "Gold will no longer be valued for its looks but will be valued as a conductor and will mostly be used in transmission antennas", stuff like that -- which was excised from later editions.) My copy is even signed by Bucky himself. It was a gift from a good friend of mine. I've read it and it sits on my shelf just as if it were any old book. It's not worth ten grand but it's probably the most expensive book I own. Holy crap I just looked it up and found a copy on selling for three grand! I could probably get a hundred bucks for it!


Chris Rywalt

March 23, 2010, 11:45 PM

Ordinarily I let my typos stand -- usually you can figure out what I meant -- but this time I have to mention it. When I typed "I probably won't be worth that much" of course I meant "IT probably won't be worth that much". It goes without saying that I, personally, am worth nothing and going down in value.



March 24, 2010, 12:46 AM

You are probably right Chris. It won't be worth $250,000. $2.5 million might be more realistic.

The complete set of his first 16 books is advertised at $160,000. He originally sold most of them for $5-10 each. These are all signed, which is unusual. (He signed just 2 of mine, and I am missing the last 3.) But still, my assumption that ON THE ROAD will appreciate just 25x in your lifetime is awfully conservative, compared to the appreciation of the early books, which are significantly less opulent. Many of the editions are huge - 3,000 or more. But the art market is a fickle beast and who really understands the future?

I don't really know why I am discussing money. Guess it's because when monetary value reaches such a level, it's hard to ignore.


Chris Rywalt

March 24, 2010, 3:18 PM

eBay has taught us that just because someone is selling something for a given price doesn't mean it's worth that much. It's worth whatever I can personally sell it for.

Anyone who didn't learn this lesson from eBay got a refresher course called the 2008 collapse of the housing market.

I happen to own comic books with sale prices at local stores of $20, $25, $100. I cannot sell them for that much. Checking on eBay I find I could possibly get one tenth of those prices if I'm lucky.

This is the myth of the art market, that you can always sell something for as much as you bought it for, or more. Art simply isn't as liquid as they'd have you believe and auction results are so manipulated they're basically useless as guidelines. Looked at carefully, art as investment underperforms a decent mutual fund. So I'd be better off getting a used copy of On the Road (in fact I think I have one already) and putting that ten grand with Charles Schwab or something.

Every so often there's a real investment in art, where something sold relatively inexpensively later sells for an astronomical amount. That's basically luck -- most artwork is worth lower than its materials cost less than a decade after purchase. On balance you're better off throwing darts at a NASDAQ listing.


Chris Rywalt

March 24, 2010, 3:26 PM

Uh, unless, of course, you buy art from Franklin Einspruch, Darby Bannard, or John Link. In which case it's bound to appreciate! Because it's awesome!


Chris Rywalt

March 24, 2010, 9:12 PM

Speaking of used book stores....



March 24, 2010, 9:46 PM

Speaking of used book stores....

Sounds nice, but Hyde Park is the place to be in Chicago if you want bookstores, used or otherwise. Powell's, the Seminary Co-op, and 57th St. Books all within walking distance, to pick just the three best? Sweetness. About the only thing I miss about the place (well, along with Harold's Chicken Shack.)



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